Monday, January 5, 2009

The HSR Deniers Stir

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Leading HSR deniers at the Reason Foundation are attacking Arnold for having supported Prop 1A and abandoning Milton Friedman's dogmatic economic conservatism:

What are some of these “necessary programs”? How about a $9.9 billion bond for a long-dreamed-of high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco that is expected to cost at least $45 billion, which even supporters such as the Los Angeles Times editorial board think will require “many billions more” in subsidies?

As we repeatedly explained, the Reason Foundation willfully ignores the economic stimulus and long-term economic value of high speed trains, their overall savings to the traveler, and their overall savings in cost of energy used. It's no surprise that they're continuing to attack HSR and those who supported it as being fiscally irresponsible, as that is going to remain their central anti-HSR, anti-mass transit charge for at least the next decade.

That isn't to say Arnold Schwarzenegger is a paragon of fiscal responsibility. He continues to refuse to sign a budget deal, demanding concessions on privatization of government construction projects and weakening of environmental and labor protections. Although Democrats have agreed to most of this, Arnold wants all or nothing - and yet STILL refuses to say whether the Dems' workaround that avoids the 2/3rds rule is something he'll support.

As Obama debates and continues to make the wrong moves on the stimulus (in this case insisting it be capped at $775 billion when most economists say $1 trillion is best) Arnold's game of chicken with the state's solvency is particularly damaging. We already have shut down all infrastructure projects in the state to save money - precisely the opposite of what we should be doing, including spending the $950 million in Prop 1A on non-HSR trains as quickly as is practical.

California's delays and ongoing financial problems will likely be fodder for Congressional Republicans, who are already beginning to make noise about opposing Obama's spending plans. They will argue that we can't afford new government projects and may even filibuster the stimulus as they did with Clinton's 1993 stimulus. If that happens - and if Obama doesn't find a way to break it - then future spending plans, including the federal contribution to California HSR, will be imperiled.


Spokker said...

It's no wonder republicans are opposed to spending plans. They already got theirs. And some of them got theirs from their daddies.

Ben said...

It seems to me that the republicans should support this, since the bulk of the stimulus are tax cuts for middle class and business; from what i heard on the radio only 100B is going to be used for infrastructure.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Paul Krugman said it best today: Republicans aren't going to take half a loaf when they are convinced they can get, and deserve, the full loaf - i.e. more tax cuts and less spending. The GOP plays for keeps and usually wins because Democrats are so focused on proving their bipartisan credentials when nobody really cares much about that.

Alon Levy said...

Ben, the plan is for the stimulus to be 60% spending, 40% tax cuts. Not all spending will be infrastructure: some will go to unemployment insurance, and some will go to bailing out states with budget deficits.

Robert, from reading Krugman's article, you'd never guess the Democrats managed to scuttle Social Security privatization with 45 Senators, and stop offshore drilling when gas was at $4/gallon. Nor would you ever guess that the Republican defeat in 2006 was in large part due to Rove's strategy of alienating moderates and appeasing the base. On economic issues, Krugman's credentials are impeccable. On political ones, he's tone deaf.

Rafael said...

IMHO, it is fundamentally contrary to the notion of democracy that a minority should ever be able to prevent a vote on a bill it doesn't like. While I happen to agree with the Democratic caucus' political objectives regarding Social Security and offshore drilling, filibusters of any kind and by anyone are anathema in a modern state. All they do is waste parliamentary time and prevent elected officials from doing what they were elected to do, which generates resentment and cynicism among the electorate.

There are some precedents for getting around filibusters but using them would require that Harry Reid grow a pair.

The California state constitution's requirement for a 2/3 majority on a balanced budget has much the same effect as a filibuster in the US senate. It is highly corrosive to public support of the system of governance.

Alon Levy said...

IMHO, it is fundamentally contrary to the notion of democracy that a minority should ever be able to prevent a vote on a bill it doesn't like.

That is not true. Most democracies in the world are less majoritarian than the US, not more. In Continental Europe, governing coalitions usually include more parties than is necessary for a majority, simply to ensure broader support and stability. It doesn't erode public support or breed cynicism - on the contrary, majoritarianism correlates with lower voter turnout.

The comparative politics literature generally says that majoritarianism ensures stabler governments. But research by Arendt Lijphart of UCSD shows that in fact this is not so: many broad-consensus political systems are exceptionally stable and effective, for example in Scandinavia; and there is no correlation between majoritarianism and indicators of economic growth. In fact many proponents of majoritarianism have had to explain away the success of Sweden and Norway by saying their governments are too stable, and lack the frequent transitions of power of Britain and the US...

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

"In Continental Europe, governing coalitions usually include more parties than is necessary for a majority [...]"

What? Please name any country where this is "usually" the case. And while we're at it, name one that allows the opposition to delay the business of the legislature indefinitely by reading names from a phonebook while wearing diapers.

Filibusters are nothing but pathetic procedural obstructionism, the tyranny of a minority against the express wishes of the sovereign, i.e. the electorate. I hope Harry Reid at least forces his esteemed GOP colleagues to make total jackasses of themselves on a regular basis (and vice versa if the GOP ever regains a majority).

Alon Levy said...

Please name any country where this is "usually" the case.

Most of them. In Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Israel and I think also Sweden, Norway, Austria, and Finland, the governing coalition usually include more parties than is necessary for a majority. In Switzerland, from the 1950s until the 1990s, there was only one election cycle in which the governing coalition did not consist of all major parties, on both the left and the right.

And while we're at it, name one that allows the opposition to delay the business of the legislature indefinitely by reading names from a phonebook while wearing diapers.

Different countries have different checks on pure majoritarianism. The US has bicameralism, an unusually strong legislative branch, and the filibuster. In Israel, judges are appointed by consensus; in addition, the Knesset committees are as strong as in the US, but the chairs are drawn from many coalition parties, and government oversight is run by the opposition. In Britain and Canada, there's opposition day, a tradition where one day of the year, the opposition controls the legislative agenda, and may pass any legislation that the governing party would not allow an up or down vote on.

Personally, I'd be all for abolishing the filibuster, if judicial nominations require a two-thirds majority, and committee structure is amended in such a way that the minority party occasionally has a chance to get its legislation to the floor.

The problem of Harry Reid's being as good a majority leader as Bush was a President is separate. With any other majority leader, the filibuster would be too divisive to be tried often; nobody wants to actually go read the phone book on the floor.

Gamecoug said...

Reid is unwilling to call anyone's bluff. It's just sad. There is 0 chance (IMO) that the Republicans will filibuster against a stimulus package that includes tax cuts and spending on long needed repairs.

As for filibusters being anathema, I have to agree with Alon Levy. The Senate works that way to make sure that the rights and interests of the minority party are not ignored. We've had 8 years of being ruled by 50% +1 politics. I'd rather we get some 58-60% proposals out there.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

none of the countries you mention has coalitions with more members than needed to pass legislation nor have they had them in the past. I don't know where you have this from. Indeed, nordic countries often have minority governments that are tolerated by one or more minority parties without cabinet members.

Israel may be the lone exception, I don't know enough about that. Note that Israel is in Asia, not in Central Europe.

In the UK, members of Parliament (from any party) can submit so-called private members' bills and ask for them to be included in the legislative agenda. Typically, the government tries to accommodate these requests if they don't overlap with or contradict bills of their own. In practice, that means they often address niche topics with broad support across party lines.

As for judges, there's an argument for letting the judiciary itself nominate candidates to take the politics out of the process as much as possible. The unseemly circus surrounding appointments to the bench - especially the Supreme Court - in the US does not occur in most other developed countries.

poncho said...

reasons blind ideology that government is bad and the free market will solve all our problems would drag this recession out 10 years and into a depression. just like herbert hoover.